December 15, 2011 Posted in programming  |  autofixture

Keep your unit tests DRY with AutoFixture Customizations

When I first incorporated AutoFixture as part of my daily unit testing workflow, I noticed how a consistent usage pattern had started to emerge. This pattern can be roughly summarized in three steps:

  1. Initialize an instance of the Fixture class.
  2. Configure the way different types of objects involved in the test should be created by using the Build method.
  3. Create the actual objects with the CreateAnonymous or CreateMany methods.

As a result, my unit tests had started to look a lot like this:

[Test]
public void WhenGettingAListOfPublishedPostsThenItShouldOnlyIncludeThose()
{
    // Step 1: Initialize the Fixture
    var fixture = new Fixture();

    // Step 2: Configure the object creation
    var draft = fixture.Build()
        .With(a => a.IsDraft = true)
        .CreateAnonymous();
    var publishedPost = fixture.Build()
        .With(a => a.IsDraft = false)
        .CreateAnonymous();
    fixture.Register(() => new[] { draft, publishedPost });

    // Step 3: Create the anonymous objects
    var posts = fixture.CreateMany();

   // Act and Assert...
}

In this particular configuration, AutoFixture will satisfy all requests for IEnumerable types by returning the same array with exactly two Post objects: one with the IsDraft property set to True and one with the same property set to False.

At that point I felt pretty satisfied with the way things were shaping up: I had managed to replace entire blocks of boring object initialization code with a couple of calls to the AutoFixture API, my unit tests were getting smaller and all was good.

Duplication creeps in

After a while though, the configuration lines created in Step 2 started to repeat themselves across multiple unit tests. This was naturally due to the fact that different unit tests sometimes shared a common set of object states in their test scenario. Things weren’t so DRY anymore and suddenly it wasn’t uncommon to find code like this in the test suite:

[Test]
public void WhenGettingAListOfPublishedPostsThenItShouldOnlyIncludeThose()
{
    var fixture = new Fixture();
    var draft = fixture.Build()
        .With(a => a.IsDraft = true)
        .CreateAnonymous();
    var publishedPost = fixture.Build()
        .With(a => a.IsDraft = false)
        .CreateAnonymous();
    fixture.Register(() => new[] { draft, publishedPost });
    var posts = fixture.CreateMany();

    // Act and Assert...
}

[Test]
public void WhenGettingAListOfDraftsThenItShouldOnlyIncludeThose()
{
    var fixture = new Fixture();
    var draft = fixture.Build()
        .With(a => a.IsDraft = true)
        .CreateAnonymous();
    var publishedPost = fixture.Build()
        .With(a => a.IsDraft = false)
        .CreateAnonymous();
    fixture.Register(() => new[] { draft, publishedPost });
    var posts = fixture.CreateMany();

    // Different Act and Assert...
}

See how these two tests share the same initial state even though they verify completely different behaviors? Such blatant duplication in the test code is a problem, since it inhibits the ability to make changes. Luckily a solution was just around the corner as I discovered customizations.

Customizing your way out

A customization is a pretty general term. However, put in the context of AutoFixture it assumes a specific definition:

A customization is a group of settings that, when applied to a given Fixture, control the way AutoFixture will create anonymous instances of the types requested through that Fixture.

What that means is that I could take all the boilerplate configuration code produced during Step 2 and move it out of my unit tests into a single place, that is a customization. That allowed me to specify only once how different objects needed to be created for a given scenario, and reuse that across multiple tests.

public class MixedDraftsAndPublishedPostsCustomization : ICustomization
{
    public void Customize(IFixture fixture)
    {
        var draft = fixture.Build()
            .With(a => a.IsDraft = true)
            .CreateAnonymous();
        var publishedPost = fixture.Build()
            .With(a => a.IsDraft = false)
            .CreateAnonymous();
        fixture.Register(() => new[] { draft, publishedPost });
    }
}

As you can see, ICustomization is nothing more than a role interface that describes how a Fixture should be set up. In order to apply a customization to a specific Fixture instance, you’ll simply have to call the Fixture.Customize(ICustomization) method, like shown in the example below. This newly won encapsulation allowed me to rewrite my unit tests in a much more terse way:

[Test]
public void WhenGettingAListOfDraftsThenItShouldOnlyIncludeThose()
{
    // Step 1: Initialize the Fixture
    var fixture = new Fixture();

    // Step 2: Apply the customization for the test scenario
    fixture.Customize(new MixedDraftsAndPublishedPostsCustomization());

    // Step 3: Create the anonymous objects
    var posts = fixture.CreateMany();

    // Act and Assert...
}

The configuration logic now exists only in one place, namely a class whose name clearly describes the kind of test data it will produce. If applied consistently, this approach will in time build up a library of customizations, each representative of a given situation or scenario. Assuming that they are created at the proper level of granularity, these customizations could even be composed to form more complex scenarios.

Conclusion

Customizations in AutoFixture are a pretty powerful concept in of themselves, but they become even more effective when mapped directly to test scenarios. In fact, they represent a natural place to specify which objects are involved in a given scenario and the state they are supposed to be in. You can use them to remove duplication in your test code and, in time, build up a library of self-documenting modules, which describe the different contexts in which the system’s behavior is being verified.

comments powered by Disqus